Man-Animal Conflict in British India

The news reports published on losses to human life inflicted by the wild animals in British India shed indirect light on the relative abundance of wildlife and the issues of man-animal conflict experienced during the British times. The statistics quoted in these reports can best be regarded as rough estimates and broadly indicative of the underlying trends.


Published on Thursday the 31st of January 1889 in Mercury and Weekly Courier, Vic.

A writer on the “‘The Game and Game-Laws of India,” in the current number of the Quarterly Review, says that the recent enactment of a law for the protection of wild birds and game in India marks a notable era in the progress of Western thought and civilization in that country.


In Lord Dufferins’ new Game Law a power has been taken to enable the local Governments to extend the provisions of the Act to any animals of game other than birds. This may, perhaps, be looked on with suspicion by some people. But there are several kinds of game animals, such as nilghai and antelopes, which really need protection. Nor is this the first effort of the Government in this direction. “Nearly ten years ago the Viceroy found himself obliged to legislate to prohibit the wanton destruction of wild elephants, and to assert the Government rights of ownership in all that might be captured, whether by its own special officers or by licensed hunters. It seemed as if the elephants of India were about to become an extinct species. The supply of newly caught wild elephants was decreasing from year to year. The mortality among the tame elephants employed for military purposes had largely increased, especially during the protracted campaigns of the Mutiny of 1857. The elephant, though of huge strength, is of delicate constitution, and requires to be treated with much more care than it usually receives when engaged on military duties. The market value of elephants showed how seriously the supply was becoming exhausted. Their price more than doubled itself for all young and serviceable animals. Then the Government interposed, and as tame elephants do not breed in captivity, the law was passed to protect the wild elephants from being hunted for the sake of their ivory; and to require the professional hunters of elephants to take out a licence, under which the Government would have the first choice of all newly captured elephants for the wants of the Commissariat and for other military purposes.”


It has, the writer remarks, been probably too much the habit of English sportsmen in India to deplore the general decrease of the wild animals which they used to hunt. “Wherever there has been a marked diminution or disappearance of the beasts of prey, it is usually due to one of three causes. The first and principal cause has been the gradual increase of cultivation throughout the country. The second case is referable to the policy adopted by the Government of India, of giving pecuniary rewards for the extermination of wild animals and poisonous snakes; and the third cause is to be found in the assiduous endeavours of English sportsmen, during the last century, to kill as many wild beasts as they could find time and opportunity to destroy. With regard to the first cause, it is a simple fact that the clearance of the forest and the spread of cultivation have been fatal, not only, to the larger beasts of prey, but also to the innocent herds of deer and antelopes. The policy which has been pursued by the English Government, in attempting to exterminate wild beasts, leaves very little reason to fear that it will permit its new Game Law to be abused, so as to encourage the growth of any noxious animals. On the contrary, if according to the old fable of Aesop, a council of wild beasts could now be held, it would be for the animals to complain that the English Government had encroached on their rights and privileges in a manner utterly unknown to the original rulers of India. It has been made a systematic business to encourage the destruction of all wild beasts. A table of rewards, setting a value on the head of each tiger and other dangerous animal, hangs in every public office and market place.”


In British India during the year 1886 the Government paid 189,006 rupees in rewards for the destruction of wild animals and poisonous snakes collectively. “The total number of human beings reported as killed by wild animals in 1886 was 2,707, as follows :- Killed by wild elephants 57, by tigers 928, by leopards 194, by bears 113, by wolves, 222, by hyenas 24, by other animals, 1169. The account per contra, showing the number of wild animals destroyed and the amount of rewards paid for their destruction, stands as follows :- Wild elephants 7; 300 rupees- tigers 1,464; 48,000 rupees – leopards 4,051; 70,632 rupees – bears 1,668; 7,783 rupees – Wolves 6,725; 24,138 rupees – total, 22,417 animals, 163,438 rupees. This it will be seen that, on the whole, the wild beasts had much the worst of the conflict. As between tigers and men unfortunately the numbers were more nearly equal.”


It will have been observed that 1160 of the deaths are attributed to “other unspecified animals,” whilst 6852 animals coming under this indefinite heading were killed. “From some of the details which have been given, particularly in Bengal, it appears that jackals’ take the highest place in this class; and it is probable that many more young children are carried off by jackals than the returns show. A woman, whose hut is on the outskirts of a village surrounded by trees and low brushwood, may go over to a neighbor’s house to borrow a little rice or some fire-wood. Her absence may be but for a minute; but when she returns, the little child that she left playing at her door has disappeared. No cry was heard, for the jackal seized the child by the back of the neck and death was instantaneous. The men of the village are away at their daily work in the fields; and, before the afflicted woman can summon her neighbors to the rescue, every morsel of her missing child has been devoured by the jackal and its hungry whelps.”



Published on Saturday, the 14th of January 1905 in World’s News, Sydney, NSW

In an official report issued at Simla (India) it is mentioned that nearly all of the 48 human deaths from tigers reported last year in Sambalpur district, Central Provinces, were caused by a single tigress, which had been infesting the Ambabhana jungles for some years; also that one or two man-eating wolves are responsible for almost all the deaths attributed to these pests in Budaun, Cawnpore and Fatehpur districts. During the year human deaths from wild animals in the whole of India numbered 2749 against 2536 in 1902, and from snakebite 21,827 as compared with 23,167 in 1903. Number of cattle destroyed by wild animals was 86,232, and by snakes 9994, compared with 83,999 and 9919 in the preceding 13 months.



Published on Tuesday 31st of December 1907 in West Gippsland Gazette, Warragul, Vic.

The total number of people killed by wild animals in India during 1906 was 2084, as against 2051 in 1905. This is according to a Government return. Wolves are reported to have killed 175 persons in the United Provinces. In the Madras Presidency tigers were responsible for the greater mortality reported, while a mad wolf in the Sholapur district of Bombay caused 16 deaths. In Bengal the number of persons killed by elephants rose from 9 in 1906 to 15 in 1906, and a proposal has, it is stated, been made by the magistrate of Cuttack for the organisation of a khedda in that district. Tigers killed a larger number of persons than in 1905 in Madras, Bombay, the United Provinces, and Burma and steps have been taken for the destruction of man-eating tigers in these provinces. Three man-eating tigers were destroyed in Sambalpur, Angul, and Mandular in 1906. The persons reported to have died from snake-bites numbered 22,834 against 21,797 in 1905, the increased mortality being ascribed to high floods, which drove snakes into houses and homesteads.



Published on Tuesday the 16th of November 1909 in Mercury, Hobart, Tas.

It is a remarkable fact that in spite of the opening out of the country by railways and roads, and the clearing of jungle-tracts, the number of persons killed by wild animals in India does not show any decrease. In fact (says an exchange) last year the figures rose to 2,166, an actual increase of 200 in comparison with the deaths-in 1907. In Bengal, tigers killed 100 more persons; while in the Central Provinces and Berar the increase was 64. In the Chanda district one tiger alone killed 19 before he was shot, while panthers and bears accounted for 95, practically double the total of the preceding year. In the United Provinces the mortality was 194 against 159. This increase was due to the ravages of leopards, and wolves in the Kumaon and Fyzabad divisions respectively. Leopards seem to abound in Kumaon, and one particularly given to man-eating was still at large at the close of the year, though, a reward of Rs. 500 had been offered for his extinction. In Bahraich wolves have become so dangerous that special measures have been taken for their extermination. The number of cattle killed was 87,097, a decrease of 1200. In the United Provinces, however, there was a remarkable rise; and in the Almora district this is said to have been due to the wholesale destruction of game, which has resulted in a serious diminution of the natural food supply of tigers and leopards.



Published on Saturday the 7th of December 1912 in The W.A. Record, Perth, WA

A Blue Book just issued gives statistics for the number of persons killed by wild animals and snakes in British India from 1880 to 1910. The figures show, as usual, that the tiger is the animal most destructive to human life; it is responsible for 38 per cent, of the total number of deaths caused by wild animals in the last five years, leopards, wolves and bears accounting for 16, 12, and 4 per cent, respectively. Elephants and hyenas are two other classes whose ravages are distinguished in the returns. Of the 629 deaths attributed to “other animals,” 244 are assigned to alligators and crocodiles, 51 to wild pigs, 16 to buffaloes, 24 to wild dogs, and 223 to unspecified animals. In 1910 there were 22,478 deaths from snake bite compared with 21,364 in the previous year. The statistics regarding the number of cattle killed by wild animals and snakes are naturally not very perfect. For the five years ending 1910 the number of cattle killed was about 100,000.



Deaths from Wild Animals and Snakes

Published on Saturday the 25th of March 1933 in The Telegraph, Brisbane, Qld. 

CALCUTTA. March 25.

Wild animals and snakes have been responsible for the death of 1,395 persons in the Central Provinces last year. Of these 1,199 died from snake bite, 43 from attacks by tigers, 17 by leopards and panthers, and 36 by wild bears.